2009 Pan Am Championships - Learning Experience for Team USA Next Generation
Members of Team USA converged on Guadalajara, Mexico on October 18th and 19th with the hope of surpassing last year's 3rd place result. While the team left with a disappointing 5th place finish, they did not leave empty handed. All who participated, including the eight team members, four additional individual participants, and the coach Wendy Carter, brought home valuable experience that will help USA Badminton's young players in future competitions. With the face of USA Badminton changing as reflected in the members of the team, I found myself as the most senior member of the team at just 24 years old, followed closely by Panita Phongasavithas and Nick Jinadasa. This is a far cry from just a few years ago when I was one of the youngest members. While all of this year's team members already have considerable competitive experience, our youth showed with our struggles to adapt to the difficult conditions in Guadalajara. Guadalajara rests at nearly one mile above sea level, which combined with poor visibility in the stadium, made the competition a very different kind of test. Those who won, won because they were able to best adjust to the conditions, while those who lost struggled to keep the bird in play often failing to react to and track the shuttle.
During the first day of competition, we found ourselves paired in the more difficult pool with Peru, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Our first tie was with the number two-seeded and eventual silver medalist Peru; although we dropped the set 4-1, this result was not without contest. Three of the four matches that Team USA lost were decided by only a small margin in points with strong and notable performances by all the athletes who participated. Our next tie was against the weaker Dominican Republic, who displayed some young potential talent but none mature enough to take a single match from Team USA with the final score 5-0 against the island country.
The final tie of the day was the most critical against the home country Mexico who had earlier in the day lost to Peru 3-2. This meant that the winner of the tie would move into the top four, while the loser would drop to play for 5th place. The first three matches were split 2-1 in favor of Mexico moving to a dramatic must win situation for USA in the final two matches. Nick Jinadasa, against the taunts and cheers of the Mexican crowd, wrested a stunning and dramatic win from Salvador Sanchez 21-15, 14-21, 21-19 to even the tie 2-2. This set the stage for the fifth and deciding match, which proved to be a nail-biter until the end. With tremendous shifts in the momentum throughout the match, Arnold Setiadi and Rulan Yeh played to their best, fighting the conditions, against the strong and well-adjusted home team who had their fans at their backs. Mexico was on the ropes through most of the third game of the match with Setiadi and Yeh nearing the end with a 20-18 lead, at which point Mexico desperately responded with a series of remarkable diving gets and stunning tumbles off the tape, and brilliant finished it off to win the match 21-14, 9-21, 22-20 and the tie 3-2. Mexico moved into the top four at the Pan Am Team Championships for the first time in the history of the competition.
The stunned Team USA, relegated to play the following day for fifth place shut out Chile 3-0 and clinched it defeating the impressively strong Barbados 3-0 without dropping a set.
That evening, members of Team USA said goodbye to their coach Wendy Carter, who was valuable to their performance, and prepared for the individual competition greeting fellow country mates Matt Fogarty, David Lim, David Neumann, and Rulien Yeh. After several changes to the draws, play began with Men's Singles. With four participants in the draw, Ted Shear and Arnold Setiadi dropped in the round of 64, while Fogarty dropped his first match in the round of 32. Nick Jinadasa advanced to the round of 16 after a strong three set win in his first match to meet Peru's top single's player Rodrigo Pacheco. After a strong start winning the first set 25-23, Jinadasa dropped the second set and was in a good position to win the match in the third set with an 11-10 lead at the change. Moving to the better side, Jinadasa prepared to close out the match, but faltered and let Pacheco take command of the match to finish with Peru on top.
In the women's singles, Iris Wang and Rulan Yeh both dropped their matches in the round of 32 in dramatic close sets. Vimla Phongasavithas won her first match without much trouble to meet the Canadian Joycelin Ko, who had earlier in the day beaten the number two-seeded Christina Aicardi. Vimla pushed Joycelin in the second set eventually losing the match 21-10, 24-22. Finally, third seeded Rena Wang defended her seeding with strong three set wins in her first two matches and a comfortable win against Mexico's Mariana Ugalde in the quarterfinals to meet Canada's Ko in the semifinals. Ready to avenge her teammate she ultimately fell in three hard-fought sets 18-21, 21-19, 21-19.
Also beginning the first day was the mixed doubles event-USA had two teams participating Arnold Setiadi/Rulien Yeh and Nick Jinadasa/Rulan Yeh. Jinadasa/Yeh advanced all the way to the semifinals after defeating a strong Mexican pair, a stronger Canadian pair, and the third seeded Peruvian pair to meet the number one-seeded and eventual tournament champions Canadians Toby Ng/Grace Gao. Jinadasa and Yeh held their own, but lost the match 22-20, 21-17 proving that they are a force to be reckoned with. Setiadi and Yeh, however, played a spectacular match against a Mexican team that was fraught with controversy as on match point the umpire overruled a line-call on the baseline to give the Mexican team the win. The players, coaches, spectators and the overruled line judge all objected vehemently to the umpire's decision, which he made after a noticeable pause.
In the men's doubles competition, the USA also fielded two teams-fourth seed Matt Fogarty/David Neumann and Kyle Emerick/David Lim. Fogarty/Neumann bested Canadians Tommy McKee/Kevin Li first round to meet the experienced Guatemalan pair Pedro Yang/Erick Anguiano. The US pair got the best of the Guatemalans during another controversial match in which Yang was awarded a yellow card. Fogarty/Neumann met the top seeded Peruvian pair in the semifinals and although they took an early lead winning the first set 21-18, they lost in three hard-fought sets losing the second 21-14 and the final game 21-16. Emerick/Lim lost in three tight sets to the Jamaican pair Gareth Henry/Charles Pyne 19-21, 21-17, 21-15 in the round of 16.
The women's doubles draw held two of the US's three pairs of sisters with third seeded Rulan and Rulien Yeh, and Iris and Rena Wang. The third seeded Yeh sisters had a tough draw falling to the experienced Canadian pair Milaine Cloutier/Valérie St. Jacques, who eventually won the tournament. On the other hand, the Wang sisters advanced all the way to the semifinals after beating the top seeded Peruvian pair. In their semifinal match, Iris and Rena dropped in three close sets to the Canadian pair Grace Gao/Fiona McKee, who lost in the finals also in three close sets.
While Team USA finished with a disappointing 5th in the team competition, we had strong finishes in all of the individual draws proving that the next generation of USA badminton can hang with all of the competitors in the region. Additionally, all the participants who hail from the USA returned hungry for a stronger result next year and are ready to build on the experience acquired. We hope for the continued support of our coaches and community in our quest to climb the ranks of world badminton.